Hindu Prayer Will Open Senate Session in July

July 7, 2008 - 8:06 PM

(CNSNews.com) - For what is believed to be the first time in its history, the U.S. Senate will on July 12 be opened with a Hindu prayer, the Senate Chaplain's Office confirmed Monday.

For more than 200 years, the Senate has opened each workday with a prayer usually delivered by the Senate Chaplain, currently Barry Black, a Seventh Day Adventist. It is common, however, for senators to recommend religious leaders from their home states to serve as guest chaplains.

Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain from Nevada, on will become the first Hindu to deliver the morning prayer. In a statement announcing his scheduled appearance, Zed called the occasion "an illustrious day for all Americans and a memorable day for us."Hindu Chaplain Rajan Zed

Zed has previously offered prayers to open sessions of the Nevada State Assembly and Nevada State Senate in March and May of this year respectively. According to reports, he was the first Hindu to deliver opening prayers in any state legislature in the U.S.

"I believe that despite our philosophical differences, we should work together for the common objectives of human improvement, love, and respect for others," Zed said in an e-mail to Cybercast News Service.

Zed, a U.S. citizen originally from India, said he has not finalized the prayer but that it will likely quote Hindu scriptures including the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita.

He said he plans to start and end the prayers with "'OM,' the mystical syllable containing the universe, which in Hinduism is used to introduce and conclude religious work."

While the prayer will draw from Hindu religious texts, Zed said it will be "universal in approach."

Senate Historical Office (SHO) historian Betty Koed said the office doesn't have a complete list of past guest chaplains but that she knew of "no evidence of a Hindu prayer" being spoken on the Senate floor in the past.

Inviting guest chaplains to open Senate sessions dates back to at least 1857, according to SHO records. In that year, all sessions were opened by guest chaplains, because the Senate did not appoint an official chaplain.

James Kirkland became the first African-American to deliver the opening prayer in 1965. Six years later Wilmina Rowland was the first woman to pray on the Senate floor.

While the majority of official and guest chaplains represent Protestant, Catholic or Jewish faiths, Zed is not the first religious figure outside the Judeo-Christian tradition to offer the daily prayer. In 1992, Wallace Mohammed became the first Muslim leader to deliver the invocation.

Spokesmen for both Nevada senators - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican John Ensign, the most likely candidates to have recommended Zed for the guest chaplain position - did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Zed did not say which senator requested that he be invited as a guest chaplain.

digg_skin = 'compact'

Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Nathan Burchfiel

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.